Problem Radical(s): An Experimental Opera
“We wanted to make a piece that was not just about radicalism, but in itself radical,” explains Kara Feely, writer and director of the experimental opera Problem Radical(s) put on by the performance group Object Collective.
A challenge that Feely saw when taking on this extreme task, was the “inherent contradiction in the concept or even the word radical – which both means to get to the root something but then also, trying to change.”
So one of the questions Feely faced when writing the script, what the performance itself tries to answer is, “what happens when you try and make a foundation of something that is constantly trying to improve and change itself?”
Her answer was to put together a “fundamentally unstable performance.” So each night the script—a collage of different found sources citing radical thinkers from the beginning of American history up to the 1960s, as well as a plethora of contemporary activism found through media broadcasts and Internet babble—changes each night. You will never see the same show twice.
The opera itself is modular, but there are many sections that are re-ordered every performance, to constantly change the flow. And this is not the only shift happening during Problem Radical(s). It is not only a highly theatrical opera with four actors, three musicians, and an entire original and continuous score written by Travis Just; but also an art installation piece that grows over the course of the performance run.
“The show changes on a microscopic scale and a large scale. Two formal shifts are happening: small on the level of performance and large on the level of the room and the environment,” explains Feely.
So what happens when you watch a piece that breaks these traditional rules of theater?
Roy William Scranton explains in his review of the piece:
“What begins to happen, watching the show, is that you stop waiting for things to make sense. Instead of looking for a plot, a symbolic or lyrical structure, or even the quite-loud-quiet dynamic that so often crudely reinstantiates dramatic structures ostensibly eschewed, you begin to give yourself over to watching, wondering, thinking about all this stuff on stage and what the idea of political theater even means”
Problem Radical(s) runs April 24th through May 10th at PS 122.